By Julia Simon
March 27, 2018
Broken Social Scene, Toronto’s “baroque pop” music collective, comes to Neighborhood Theater on April 3 in support of their first album in seven years: Hug of Thunder. Whether you’re a new fan or have been on board since 2003’s You Forgot It In People, there’s a track for you on this eclectic record. From the jungles of sound on “Vanity Pail Kids” to the bass-heavy timing play on “Towers and Masons,” Hug of Thunder swirls with cautious optimism, reminding us that Broken Social Scene is, as always, here to uplift us. For some, this album might seem archival and disjointed, but for the rest, it’s a distillation of the collective’s best musical instincts and emphasizes their ensemble nature more skillfully than any of their past works.
Last time they were in town, it was as the opening act for TV on the Radio’s Nine Types of Light tour in 2012. This time, they’re supported by The Belle Game, whose honeyed lyrics and shimmering electronics overlap riffs on the balanced auditory collage that is Broken Social Scene’s area of expertise. That expertise has brought them worldwide renown, despite never signing to a major label, choosing instead to build their own. Back in 2003 when Pitchfork gave You Forgot It In People an unheard of rating of 9.2, the internet was still developing as a vehicle to discover and spread new music. That review (among other glowing praise) fueled a career that’s spanned almost two decades and created a sizeable pile of satellite bands of equal caliber (Leslie Feist’s Feist, Emily Haines’ Metric, and Ohad Benchetrit’s Do Make Say Think, to name a few). File sharing platforms like Napster allowed piqued interest to morph immediately into fanship, and careers ramped up so quickly it was hard for nascent acts to pace themselves. Maybe because of their collective structure, or just the sheer number of musicians involved, Broken Social Scene was uniquely adept at translating that rise into a stable career and well-loved body of work that shaped and inspired many performers to come.
Broken Social Scene is undoubtedly an indie rock band, but their “baroqueness” can be attributed to a number of factors that differentiate them from most. First, they seldom tour with fewer than nine people, with sometimes as many as sixteen musicians on stage at once. Second, their use of strange percussion, horns, and orchestral strings makes for an entertaining, if vaudevillian experience, especially live. There’s something pleasantly anachronistic about the way they overlap digital and analog sound, as if to remind us that music is one of humanity’s most ancient forms of storytelling and sometimes you have to use whatever you can get your hands on to get your point across.
There’s been a slew of early-aughts indie band reunion tours these last few years, but this is one not to miss.